Part 1 of my 4 part series "Better Know A Fat"
I originally was going to title this post, "Are Girl Scouts Killing Americans One Cookie At A Time?", but thought better of it. I don't think Girl Scouts are trying to kill Americans, even if their cookies still contain trans fats. And right off the bat I should tell you, products can be labeled No Trans Fats! even though they have trans fats...huh? More on that later.
The trans fats that are killing us are man made. There are trace amounts of trans fats that can be found naturally, but by and large, the bulk of the trans fats that we consume are made industrially. Why are they made? Because they are fats that hold their shape longer and make a oily fat more solid. The chain of their atoms is in a straight line, rather than squiggly like saturated fats, and thus they can be used for all kinds of items that need longer shelf life, like cookies, crackers and Crisco.
photo from bantransfats.com
Hydrogenated is the key word to look for when reading a food label. It refers to the process of adding hydrogen to the fat to alter its chemical composition so that it's molecule chain will remain straight. You might find something like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, or hydrogenated vegetable oil, it's the hydrogenated that makes a good fat, like soy bean oil, bad. You might also see the word shortening, and that too is a trans fat. Technically, in the US, a product can have a half gram or less, per serving, and still be labeled trans fat free and have a zero on the food label, so read the ingredients, if it contains any of the words above, it contains trans fats. Most obese people, hell most Americans in general, are not going to eat one serving of Doritos (which contain hydrogenated oils) so in effect many end up eating many grams of trans fats daily, and all the while think they are eating "zero" grams.
Why are they so bad? They aren't just bad, they are wicked bad! A study by the Harvard School of Public Health estimates that there are between 30,000 and probably closer to 100,000 premature deaths a year in America due to the ingestion of trans fats alone! Trans fats raise your LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower your HDL (good cholesterol), they harden your arteries and clog them to boot. They can cause insulin resistance and contribute greatly to type 2 diabetes. And there is this from the New England Journal of Medicine;
On a per-calorie basis, trans fats appear to increase the risk of coronary heart disease more than any other macronutrient... a 2 percent increase in energy intake from trans fatty acids was associated with a 23 percent increase in the incidence of coronary heart disease....(more studies here)
Some of you might recall the mayor of NYC banning trans fats from restaurants and fry vats, other cities are following their lead. Recently many fast food restaurants have been claiming that they will switch to more heart healthy cooking oils, but many have not yet done so. Many manufactures of cookies and crackers are slowly coming around, but many still don't care or try to circumvent the labeling.
Without doubt, the best resource to learn even more is BanTransfats.com. They sued Kraft foods and got them to take trans fats out of Oreo cookies and many other products! There is still much work to be done, and they are doing it. Other resources are Wikipedia and the FDA's Revealing Trans Fats. Also check out The Truth about Trans Fatty Acids...thanks to Lisa B!
Now kind of funny story about my "Girl Scout" alternate title. Last year when the girls in green came around I bought about 4 boxes like I always do. I mean, they are good and I like to help out the neighbor kids. After I ate about 2 of the boxes I read the label and discovered that while the label said that one serving of cookies contained zero trans fat, the ingredients had listed partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Some time later my son and I were shopping at Kroger and as we were walking out of the store a few cute Girl Scouts and their mom asked us to contribute and buy some cookies. I immediately went into a lecture about how they contain trans fats even though they say they don't and that I could no longer buy them. The woman said, "I don't know what kind of fat they have in them, all I know is that they taste good!" My son, to say the least, was mortified that his fat father had decided to take a stand against two little girls and their well meaning mom! I mean can you picture that?
For the record, I do not know if the Girl Scouts of America heeded my ramblings and took out the nasties or not this year. One can hope though. Maybe I will buy a box this year to read the label. Until that day comes, remember, trans fats are THE worst kind of fat we know of, do your heart a favor and read the ingredient label of your favorite snack food, avoid products that contain the words;
shortening, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated!